12 — 15.05.2022
Marlene Monteiro Freitas Lisbon
Mal - Embriaguez Divina
Scattered movements, percussion, deformed faces and fast paced: Marlene Monteiro Freitas’ dance is a world of metamorphosis and overdetermination, that overwhelms the viewer with an incredible force, and yet is able each time to dig into the deep intimacy of human nature. With her new choreography, Mal – Embriaguez Divina, she constructs an intensive performance, to give body to the human fascination for the evil and the unease. The Mal, has long been personified by the Devil, also known in different traditions as the Antichrist, Satan, Leviathan, Lucifer, as well as Witch, Wizard, Women, Animal, Hybrid, Mutant and so on. Monteiro Freitas’ Mal starts from there to take place on a tribune, where a group, in the form of a choir, remains under the influence of haunting visions, toxic testimonies, bacterial impressions, rotten facts. They look as much as they are surveyed. It is a choreography where the Mal itself might move among its references, between the religious, moral, ethical, political and judiciary discourse. After her worldwide success with Bacchantes presented at Kunstenfestivaldesarts 2017, Marlene Monteiro Freitas returns to Brussels with a unique choreographic work full of overflowing energy.
Conversation between Marlene Monteiro Freitas and Martin Valdés-Stauber (dramaturge)
Martin Valdés-Stauber: The title of Mal – Embriaguez Divina draws on a quote from Bataille’s La littérature et le mal: “There is an instinctive tendency towards divine intoxication which the rational world of calculation cannot bear”. How did you come upon this reference and inhowfar was it your starting point?
Marlene Monteiro Freitas: It was a bit by chance. I was already interested in some ideas connected to the word “mal”. In the romanic languages, the word has a wide range of meanings referring to the unexpected, to pain and suffering, but it also means ‘evil’. However, I couldn’t name the topics floating around. And it was only by chance that I saw Bataille’s book in my bookshelf. By reading the title word, I could finally name the topics I was interested in. The way Bataille thinks about “mal” touches me. For example when he distinguishes between sadistic evil and evil committed with a good intention; or between evil in itself and the figure of the devil. The devil could actually be a funny guy. He sneaks around and plays us. If things were not so bad, the devil would be a great, enjoyable and colorful figure. I found great all these small variations of evil.
The titles of your latest work, for instance Bacantes – Prelúdio para uma purga, and now Mal – Embriaguez Divina connect evil and a purge with a dionysian exaltation. What interests you in these two forces? Are they fighting each other?
It’s like these kinds of things that you can perceive, you can feel, but you can’t express. As soon as you name this relation it’s gone. It has already transformed. How close, but distinct, are joy and pain? It’s an ungraspable relationship. Crying turns into laughing and back to pain.
In your work, mourning can burst into ecstasy and exaltation can implode into grief at any time – seemingly without that sudden shift having been programed from the outside.
People often ask me about transgression, or about disruption; I like to stress that this is not a desire of mine. I mean, not consciously. It is not the result of a conscious 14 effort, not even of the effort of not programming something. It’s not something I look for, it’s not about flying the flag of transgression, but apparently, I unconsciously create a space for it to occur…
Bataille addresses transformative energy as a turmoil, as a “revolt of Evil against Good”. It is present in the second part of the title “Embriaguez Divina”. Divine ecstasy and evil, for Bataille, can merge, since both oppose rational calculation. On the other hand, however, the two parts of the title, evil and exaltation, might also be sharply distinguished from one another.
Absolutely, “mal” in the sense of pain always puts you in a place of doubt, of impotence. When there is something making you feel powerless, it might even turn into a descent into hell. For me it’s a bit like once you smell or you touch something, you can’t get rid of it. It grabs your feet and clings to them. You keep on walking, but with something more. You can’t go back to normal after you have witnessed something.
Actually, Bataille might not only be saying a lot about evil, but above all he might be turning critically towards “good” as a process of normalization, of conforming, organizing, planning, registering and counting: “Good is based on common interest which entails consideration of the future”. Evil, by contrast, means escaping productive exploitation or breaking social conventions, as for instance children do when revolting “against the world of Good, against the adult world”; they are “committed, in [t]his revolt, to the side of Evil.” Is “mal” an inherently creative, artistic force?
For me, it resembles dreams: you can’t really program them, either. You can’t really control them. You can’t say this dream needs to have this kind of structure or that dream needs to have that kind of content. You can’t determine: Speak about this, but you cannot speak about that. This is something we might do when we are awake. But in the intimacy of our dreams, we can be evil without even having a moral judgment on that. Sometimes you are just sleeping by the side of someone –and suddenly you have a dream that you shouldn’t be having. Of course, during the day, we might have micro moments (we are less aware of) of something crossing our mind without us acknowledging that it’s breaking a rule. The quality of art is to make 15 us aware of it even when awake… We have all been taught to do certain things in a certain way. But sometimes I really feel that we should rather be breaking out, instead of complying with the expectations. It’s like a painting with its frame. We can move outside the frame and paint the frame as well. That doesn’t necessarily mean much digression. When we speak about ecstasy we tend to imagine it as something that’s explodes. For me, it doesn’t always have this quality. It can be an implosion as well, and many times, it is.
During rehearsals, the walls of the studio were covered in images and postcards. Are they the starting point of your working process?
Not at first, when I am on my own. The images rather serve as a means of communicating with each other. Since images are more immediate than words, they are doors, impulses for the collective process. Our working process is often based a lot on imitation among us. When I propose to work from postcards, however, I am rather interested in a process of incarnation. You are using a direct image that you don’t need to create entirely on your own. This is an immediate thing anyone can do.
Nevertheless, there is a very specific way everyone in the group does it, which allows you to discover new choreographic forms.
Yes, the same postcard yields different results. For me, the combination of being extremely focused on yourself while observing yourself is very important. When I’m starting to work, I try to understand what kind of vocabulary we will be discovering. Paper? Sitting bodies as busts? How can a testimony be given without words? I use materials such as texts, images, music or films to nourish the process. They infiltrate our improvisations and rehearsals. For instance, our discussions on the courtroom and the dramaturgy of trials. Court is a place both granting the floor to a witness, but also exposing the testimony. The tribune mirroring the audience is an idea that was there from the beginning. The tribune makes you see better, it is a place from where you see what you would not see otherwise. But it also exposes…
In your work, frequently one object or material develops a life of its own. In the setting of Mal – Embriaguez Divina, paper seems to circulate in many ways. There is a symbolic violence connected to paper ever since bodies began to be integrated into a disciplining, bureaucratic system. As bureaucratized entities, we increasingly exist as documents only. In Mal, at times everything appears to be drowning in paper and documents.
I don’t work in places where people are in the middle of a sea of paper. Sometimes I believe that with digitization, paper itself is fighting a battle against its own disappearance. Everyone will perceive paper as an object and the bureaucratic setup differently, for instance if you think about (undocumented) refugees. Somehow, I am more and more drawn to political questions, due to a specific experience that showed me that we are obliged to try to know more about and to understand better the dynamics of violence and injustice. I want to react to unbearable injustice, and my way of reacting is choreography. However, I’m struggling with how to put your finger in the wound with choreographic language. That you’re not just going around, that there’s something you can touch.
Perhaps rising questions is more important: “Do all courts necessary exist for sentencing the cruelties happening?” “Can everyone speak freely as a witness?” “Do we know the stories that should be told?” Although you are interested in trials you are not re-enacting one.
There are some incarnations, but no imitation.
Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre Varia
Choreography: Marlene Monteiro Freitas | Assistance: Lander Patrick de Andrade | With: Andreas Merk, Francisco Rolo, Henri “Cookie” Lesguillier, Hsin-Yi Hsiang, Joãozinho da Costa, Mariana Tembe, Marlene Monteiro Freitas, Miguel Filipe, Tonan Quito | Light: Yannick Fouassier | Space: Marlene Monteiro Freitas, Yannick Fouassier, Miguel Figueira | Props: Marlene Monteiro Freitas, Flávio Martins | Stage manager, light operator: João Chicó | Sound: Rui Dâmaso | Research: Marlene Monteiro Freitas, Martin Valdés-Stauber, João Francisco Figueira | Dramaturgy: Marlene Monteiro Freitas, Martin Valdés-Stauber | Sound: Rui Dâmaso, Rui Antunes | Costumes: Marlene Monteiro Freitas, Marisa Escaleira
Production: P.OR.K (Soraia Gonçalves, Joana Costa Santos), Münchner Kammerspiele | Distribution: Key Performance
Coproduction: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Biennale de la danse de Lyon 2020 and Pôle européen de création – Ministère de la Culture/Maison de la Danse en soutien à la Biennale de la danse de Lyon 2020, Culturgest, Festival d’Automne in Paris, HAU Hebbel am Ufer, International Sommer Festival Kampnagel, Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, Les Spectacles Vivants – Centre Pompidou, NEXT festival, Ruhrtriennale, TANDEM Scène nationale, Teatro Municipal do Porto, Wiener Festwochen
Support: CML – Câmara Municipal de Lisboa, Dançando com a diferença, Fabbrica Europa, PARC- Performing Arts Research Center, La Gare – Fabrique des arts en mouvement, Polo Cultural Gaivotas, Boavista, Reykjavík Dance Festival, Theater Freiburg, the Embassy of Portugal in Brussels | P.OR.K Associação Cultural is funded by Governo de Portugal – Ministério da Cultura / Direção-Geral das Artes
Marlene Monteiro Freitas is the recipient of the Evens Arts Prize 2021, a biennial award honouring artists who engage with contemporary challenges in Europe.